Documenting The Details

I follow a LOT of photographers online.  I find it inspiring seeing such an incredible amount of variety in people’s work and art, and I frequently find myself gathering new ideas for different perspectives to try; alternative ways to photograph something; and simple tips, suggestions and ‘how to’ techniques with regards to the more technical side of my camera.

I’m also discovering that the photographers I follow, whether they’re hobbyist or pro; male or female; family/wedding/landscape/newborn/any-other-genre focused; US, Canada, Australia or UK-based, or even elsewhere in the world; everyone I’ve encountered (and I mean everyone) very much sticks to a ‘community over competition’ ethos.  There really is room for all in the world of photography.  The encouragement and positivity is wonderful, as is the passion for what we do and why we do it.

*Please note that this post contains affiliate links (marked with a *). This means I will receive a small commission for any purchases made by clicking through the link, at no extra cost to you*

As a result of this ethos, many photographic communities have developed over time, born from a need to gather together somewhere, even if that ‘somewhere’ is an online space.  The three that I tend to spend most of my time interacting with, and which I draw a huge amount of the aforementioned positivity and inspiration from, are ClickinMoms*, Unraveled Academy and Hello Storyteller*.  All three offer a varied selection of online workshops and courses throughout the year and I’ve been wanting to try out a class from each of them for ages (it’s even on my ’40 Things Before I’m 40′ list at #21).

Throughout the end of May and start of June I kept on noticing one class in particular through Hello Storyteller* that kept on popping up in my awareness and it really spoke to me: ‘Minutiae: Documenting the Details’ with Angie Mahlke.

I’ve been obsessed with documenting the details and capturing the minutiae of a moment (and of my girls) for as long as I can remember.  Hair, eyelashes, skin, freckles, hands (gosh I LOVE documenting hands), the curve of a spine, the crinkle of a nose, every single expression, every single unique mannerism.  A whole course dedicated to learning more about how to freeze those moments in time in a more creative and meaningful way?  I was in.  On the spur of the moment, on the final day of enrolment, I decided to go for it.

I’ll be honest: immediately after I signed up I suddenly felt a little bit hesitant.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to create the time to read the material, watch the tutorials, come up with ideas for and then shoot the images for each of the exercises, edit them all AND submit the photos within the time frame we’d been given (initially just a week, though it did end up being extended by a week which I’m grateful for otherwise I would never have managed to do it all).

But, seeing as my intention for this year is to do more of what I love (and less of what I don’t), immersing myself in anything and everything photography-related feels like the right direction to be heading in.

You don’t have to be a member of Hello Storyteller* to take their classes (I’m not).  I just really love the work that I see on Instagram of many of it’s members and mentors so I knew I’d learn a lot.  I’ve been struggling creatively for a little while with my photography.  I think the stress of the last four months since the fire, keeping up with general life stuff such as raising kids, running my business, trying to make time for our marriage and doing my best to squeeze in some self care necessities (like getting more than 4 hours of sleep a night), plus the wonderful busyness of our recent travels in the UK and the US had left me with zero mental energy.  I felt utterly exhausted and unmotivated, no matter what I tried to do to reignite the creative spark.  In the end I figured that perhaps I just needed a bit of a rest and to let this unplanned break run it’s course.

Until this class came along.

That little flame which had been getting smaller and smaller suddenly flickered with interest and began to burn a tiny bit brighter and it’s given me the push I needed.

I missed my camera, missed documenting the tiny ‘at home’ moments with my girls.  Capturing the details slows me down, makes me more intentional, makes me notice things more.  It makes me SEE my girls.  Properly I mean.  It forces me to find the beauty in the ordinary and encourages me to see past the mess and recognise it for what it actually is: the magic within the mess.

Documenting The Details

As it’s an online course, upon my enrolment I received links to download all the material I’d need: the pdf files, video tutorials and audio files.  It was really quick and easy to do and it meant I could get started right away if I wanted to.  There was also a link to a private Facebook group for all participants of the course, past and present.  This was designed to be a comfortable and encouraging space where we could ask any questions we might have, submit images for critique and get to know each other (and our teacher, Angie) a bit better.  As soon as I logged in, I felt welcomed.

Overall there were six exercises to complete and each had clearly been carefully put together to encourage us to stretch ourselves a little bit beyond our comfort zones and help us learn the important aspects of documenting the details and using them to tell a story.

Exercise One: Make a ‘Shooting Bucket List’

I’m actually still working on this one and I think it may be an ever-evolving document that I revisit regularly.  I’m quite possibly overthinking it a little (ha!) because I’m dividing it up into images I want to capture of each of the girls individually, plus particular seasonal images I want to document that have all three of the girls in together.

In addition to that there are also a number of shots I want with them that I’m in as well, because I’m just as much a part of the story and I want to show that I was there too.  This means a/ getting myself a tripod and figuring out how to use the timer on my camera and/or getting myself a remote trigger, and b/ actually stepping in front of the camera instead of hiding behind it all the time – eek.  So there are quite a lot of things on the list already and I’m not done yet!

 

Exercise Two:  Choose a detail to focus on and photograph it in multiple settings

I chose ‘hands’ for this assignment.  Lola’s in particular, though it wasn’t a deliberate choice to solely focus on her.  Ella tends to stay in her bedroom messaging her friends in the evenings after school and Mimi either does the same or is out playing in the garden with our neighbours over the fence.  Lola actually ended up being the subject of three out of the four practical assignments as she’s a bit more willing to let me take her photograph.

I love photographing hands.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they’re my favourite thing to photograph.  They are such an expressive part of us: they tell such a story just on their own without needing to see the bigger picture.

Eating pizza for dinner. Even though the focus is on her hands, I like the little nose crinkle!

Fingers on the windowsill (she was standing on tiptoes to try and see out of the window)

Wrapped in a towel after a shower

Holding her beloved Teddy, who has been with her since the day she was born. I wanted to remember the way she uses her little finger to stroke his hat.

Sucking her thumb at bedtime

Pulling up her school socks. I also wanted to capture the bruise on her knee, though it didn’t come out as well as I wanted it to. Bruised legs and scraped knees are such a part of childhood.

 

Exercise Three:  Choose a detail to focus on and photograph it five different ways in a single setting

I love capturing photographs of all three of my girls’ hair.  The way Ella’s falls in her eyes when she’s bent over her desk writing, and the way she tucks it behind her ears when she’s reading on her bed.  The way Mimi’s tangled waves blow wildly in the wind and how far down past her shoulders it hangs when it’s been freshly washed.  Lola’s beautiful curls and the way they catch the evening light that streams into her bedroom.  Pigtails will always be my absolute favourite though, which is why I chose that as the detail I wanted to capture.  I love ALL their hair in pigtails.  I have no idea why!

For these photos Lola was just sat reading on her bed whilst I moved around her to capture different angles and compositions.  I’m quite proud of these images, though I think the third one, shot from above and behind, is the one I’m most pleased with.

That curl!

I love her expression in this one

My favourite shot 🙂

I like the focus and crop in this one

This one tells the bigger picture of the story

 

Exercise Four:  Practice shooting details of a single moment as they unfold

I think I found this exercise the hardest of all of them, although I’m not quite sure why.  I think I was putting myself under pressure to come up with an idea of a moment to document.  I should know better than that!  The best moments are completely unscripted and spontaneous.  So when I caught Lola gazing out of our bedroom window after her shower I decided to capture the moments that followed.

I knew that I wanted to do one of the assignments totally in black and white too and this one seemed like it would be ideal – I liked the contrast between the light from the window and the dark shadows of the room. (Part of my reason for the conversion was also because I was finding the shots really tricky to edit in colour for some reason!)

Overall it didn’t feel particularly cohesive as a series, but I’m pleased with the images I captured (even if there is still, of course, plenty of room for improvement) and they each mean something to me which really is all that matters in the end.

Lost in thought

Hair details

From behind, so we see what she sees

I love her little squinting eyes and the way her chin is resting in her hands

My favourite part of this shot is her bare shoulder and the way she’s framed by the curtains and the window

I’m so happy I captured this shot!

 

Exercise Five:  Plan something you would like to chronicle over a duration of time

Initially I had no idea what to put down for this exercise.  Because my girls are older and far beyond the baby-and-toddler stage where tangiable milestones are reached so much more regularly, I found it difficult to come up with anything specific that I wanted to chronicle, mostly because I’ve already documented it all!  The gap-toothed smiles; the transition from cot to big bed; needing to stand on tiptoes to reach a particular cupboard and then all of a sudden not needing to stretch any more…

And then I realised that I already do still do this in many ways, it’s just that the milestones are different now.  There are photographs of the three of them that I take in the same place year after year, just to see the differences as time passes by.  Particular spots on holiday.  World Book Day costumes.  Blowing out birthday candles.  The ones where I make them all squash together on the sofa for a photo when their big sister comes to visit for the weekend.

They’re all just as important and meaningful, even if they’re not as traditional.  They’re personal to us, they’re part of our unique story and it’s these examples that I plan to continue into the future (for as long as they’ll let me anyway!)

 

Exercise Six (Final Assignment):  Choose something to document that tells a story, focusing on the details

Fortunately I had the perfect opportunity for this last exercise of the course.  Ella had an inset day at home from school and she asked if she could do some baking.  Of course I said yes and, as she was keen to do as much of it herself as possible, it meant that there was minimal involvement required on my part, leaving me free to move around with my camera and capture the whole story.  In fact, her doing it on her own was part of the story!  I wanted to document her increasing independence and her gradually growing confidence in trying out new bakes in the kitchen.

I’m really pleased with the end selection of images.  Of course there are improvements I would make if I could go back and do it again – just a few other details that I would have liked to have captured but missed in the moment – but that’s what these exercises are about: trying your best; making a few mistakes; learning from them; and doing it better next time.

(No captions on these photos as I want them to tell the story without the need for words)

The feedback I received from Angie on all four of the practical exercises was absolutely invaluable.  The detail she went into critiquing each and every image was phenomenal and the encouragement she offered was both genuine and heartfelt.  It’s really helped me to recognise what elements work and how I can improve my images with just tiny adjustments here and there.  As a result I’m already looking at things differently, wondering if a scene would work better from a different perspective or by moving in closer, and doing my best to implement it all.

I took so much learning from each and every exercise but my biggest take-away has to be that I need to slow down.  Take more time with each shot.  Be more intentional.  Really think about the story I’m trying to tell and the feelings I’m wanting to evoke.  Carefully consider what elements need to be included and what doesn’t.

It was an intense experience, a game-changer in a way, and I’m really pleased I took the opportunity and did it.  With courses like this you really do get out of it what you put in.  I’m already looking forward to seeing what other courses will be offered throughout the year, from Hello Storyteller*, Unraveled Academy AND Clickin Moms*.  Because why not?  We never stop learning after all.

Ordinary moments (like the ones I’ve captured and shared above) – the details of our quiet, everyday lives – are so, SO important.  You think you’ll remember them in perfect, intricate detail.  But you won’t.  I wish I’d been able to shoot like this when my girls were smaller.  I wish I had more shots of all the tiny details from back then.

In-home sessions are some of my favourites to capture – bedtimes or bath times or brushing teeth or breakfast or maybe even just those little things about them that you want to keep forever.  I want you to have them.  I want you to be able to look back on the images and remember just what your children were like, to feel all of those feelings again, for the emotions to come flooding back with the rush of love that goes hand in hand with being a parent.  If you would like to book a photoshoot to capture all of these details, email me at hello@picturetakermemorymaker.co.uk and let’s talk.

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